The Catholic Church maintains that four men wrote the Gospels: Matthew, Mark Luke and John. That is, the writers were Jews, and familiar with the colloquial Greek language of the time, the Koine or Hellenistic Greek, which was the lingua franca of the Roman Empire.
Are the Gospel texts complete? Muslims and other anti-Catholics religious have claimed that the Gospel texts are incomplete, or corrupted, or whatever else comes to their minds to say. Muslims even say that the original Gospels spoke of Mohammedan, but those dreadful early Christians removed all mentions of their prophet. The only problem is that they do not present one ounce of historical proof to give any weight at all to their claim. They say so, and that is supposed to be enough for us Christians to fall on our knees, tear our shirts and cry out aloud begging pardon.
They do not realize that the onus of the proof is incumbent upon the accuser, not the defender. Islam came up six hundred years after the Gospels were writtenﾅand we do not have to defend the Gospels against such nonsensical criticism: let them prove it! But they don’t, of course: and yet they still believe it.
No, the Gospels have come to us intact, without additions or deletions. In the early days of the Church, there were other texts in circulation, which some folks accepted as being ‘gospels’, but in the Council of Carthage (397 AD) they were deemed spurious or false, and were removed from use in the churches. Instead, the Church revered only the four Gospels we have in the Bible today, and rejected all others. The practice of reading texts from the Gospels during public worship – today we call it ‘The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass’ – comes from the first century of Christianity. Any attempt by anyone who might try to change the text would be immediately noted and denounced. This is especially true in the case of Christians, like those in Abitina, who laid down their lives in order not to surrender the texts of the Gospel to the fire. No one in his right mind would give his life to protect a corrupted text.
The Gospels were copied, re-copied, re-re-copied, and translated into several languages and widely distributed among the early churches. Of course, there was no printing press and illiteracy was widespread, but Bishops had copies of the Gospels and had them read out and explained during Mass. And, in spite of all those copies and translations, the substance of the message remained the same, as the earliest copies of the Gospels testify (4th century). Above all, the explanation of the message, given by the living Magisterium of the Church, ensured that it was transmitted faithfully and thoroughly.
Precisely because illiteracy was widespread, most people relied on their memories. Faithful Jews knew the psalms by memory, and when they sang them in the synagogue, there were no missalettes distributed to help them with the words. No, they knew everything by heart. And such instrument – memory – was most helpful to ensure the correct copying and translating of the Gospels. Today we live in a time of images and printed texts, so we are rather spoiled and do not develop our memory abilities as those folks did back then.
No one who reads the old classic literature today (Plato, Caesar, Cicero, etc.) doubts their authenticity. It is taken for granted that those works were written by the men we say that wrote them. But how old are the texts we possess? None of them is older than the 9th century of our era, that is, many centuries after their authors lived and wrote them, and most of them lived before Christ.
The Gospels are in an immensely better situation, as we can see by the enormous number of writings and fragments of writings dating from the early days of Christianity. I myself went once to the British museum in London to see the oldest copy of the entire Bible in existence – a complete Bible, with the complete Old Testament, dating back to the Fourth century – there was no Luther’s innovations back then to dispute Bible books – it is written in Greek, and it is the same text we have in Catholic Bibles today, especially the Douay-Rheims version.
But although the Greek and Roman classics go on being read and studied undisputed, the rationalists deny the authenticity of the Gospels! It is irrational to dispute the recent books but accept the old ones, so those who dispute the Gospels should also deny the old classic literature, since it possesses immensely less evidence of authenticity.
Adolf von Harnack was a German historian who enjoyed a great reputation among Rationalists and Protestants. He died in 1930, and was also a rationalist – definitely not a churchgoing Catholic! But he studied the historical evidence regarding the Gospels and concluded, just like a true Catholic historian would, that the Synoptic Gospels (Sts. Matthew’s, Mark’s and Luke’s Gospels) were written before 70 AD (the year of the fall of Jerusalem). His testimony is invaluable, because he realized that, if those Gospels had been written after the fall of Jerusalem, the authors would certainly have mentioned the event, as a final proof of Jesus’ prophecy and mission. But they did not mention it, because when they wrote their Gospels Jerusalem was still there! And von Harnack, although a man who did not believe in the Gospels, he admitted the historical evidence that they were written by men who had been contemporary with Jesus Himself, that is, prior to the year 70 AD. In fact, he placed the writing of St Luke’s and St. Mark’s Gospel before the year 60, and the writing of the Acts of the Apostles by the year 62.
St John’s Gospel was written much later, and von Harnack spent a long time unsure about its exact time of writing, until he finally dated it by the year 80 AD. Therefore, those who say that the Gospels were written centuries after Jesus are parroting a historical lie, purely and simply.
One interesting note about that rationalist scholar: son before his death, he admitted the Church tradition that St. Luke’s narration of the events regarding the birth of Jesus were learned from Mary herself, who was the sole living witness of those events.
Next article: Why is the Gospel message so unique among all other religions? The divinity of Jesus Christ.
Raymond de Souza KM is available to speak at Catholic events anywhere in the free world in English, Spanish, French and Portuguese. Please email SacredHeartMedia@Outlook.com or visit http://www.RaymonddeSouza.com or phone 507-450-4196 in the United States.